Essays & Theses

Around Arendt's Table: Bureaucracy and the Non-Permanent Members of the UN Security Council

Current strategies of non-permanent members to augment their influence in the United Nations Security Council tend to seek parity of status with the permanent members. A more radical and transformative strategy would seek to change the Council
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  September 2019 A uthor’s Version  Isobel Roele 1  Around Arendt’s Table : Bureaucracy and the Non-Permanent Members of the UN Security Council* 1.   Introduction Guernica   dominates the curved display wall outside the chamber of the United Nations Security Council on the second floor of the Conference Building at the New York headquarters. A tapestry copy of Picasso’s out-size painting, Guernica   shares its portion of the corridor with the Council’s press stakeout area,  witness to the high drama of high politics. Never was its presence more acutely felt than on 5 th  February 2003, when it was veiled in UN blue for a ministerial-level meeting to discuss the situation in Iraq. 1  During that meeting Colin Powell presented a series of aerial photographs in support of his government’s case for war. 2  This rare intrusion of the visual into the august Council chamber recalled an earlier occasion when the world held its breath:  Adlai Stevenson’s production in October 1962 of photographs showing Soviet military installations in Cuba. 3  From Nazi aggression, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the military might and great power politics of the Security Council courts public attention.  This Realpolitik perception crowds out more mundane images of the Council, its everyday work, and its less prominent non-permanent members. During its very first term on the Council (2017-19), Kazakhstan set about reasserting the place of smaller powers. On 2 nd  January 2018, the press stakeout area was stage to the inaugural flag-installation ceremony for incoming Council members. The event, which Kazakhstan hopes to become a “meaningful annual tradition” , 4  was meant to valorise non-permanent members, and to insist on their equality with other Council members  –   including the five permanent “great powers” ; Britain, China, France, Russia, and the USA. In effect, however, the flag installation theatrics evoked what Sara Ahmed calls “ non-performative ”  performance  –   a way of busily failing to make progress by design, characteristic of institutional bureaucracy. 5  The red security-tape around the press stakeout area took on, in this respect, a very different signification than the police-cordon it otherwise recalls. Taped off within the stakeout area, the flag installation ceremony took as its focal point the stock arrangement of the 15 flags of current Council members  –   usually a backdrop for press briefings. Each flag * Accepted for publication in 31(3) Leiden Journal of International Law   (2020) 1   See discussion in Anne Orford, “The Destiny of International Law” 17(3) LJIL (2004) 441  –  476, 458-461 2  UN Doc. S/PV.4701 (5 February 2003) 3  UN Doc. S/PV.2025 (25 October 1962) 4  Readers can watch the ceremony here: . Comments of the permanent representative of Kazakhstan, who compered the ceremony, are also recorded in a letter to the Secretary General, UN Doc. S/2018/254. 5  Sara Ahmed, On Being Included   (Duke UP, 2012)  September 2019 A uthor’s Version  Isobel Roele 2 occupies a holder lodged into one of two portable stands, and are arranged in alphabetical order; permanent members are not distinguished. Rigorously equal, each flag even droops to precisely the same degree, there being no wind indoors to ruffle them: a triumph of protocol. At the hour of the ceremony, six ambassadors and one minister waited on gaffer-taped marks as each took turn to slot their national flag into one of the vacant spots in the portable pedestals. Eventually every flag was planted, the diplomats assembled for their photo-call, and the two white-gloved security officers turned on their heels and marched away. The event did not symbolise equality, so much as solemnise administrative procedure  –   a diplomatic changing-of-the-guard. Kazakhstan’s ceremony   is a bureaucratic echo of Colin Powell’s theatre of war . The different registers of the performances - the emergency and exigency of Powell’s, the ritual and protocol of Kazakhstan’s –   nevertheless both enact authority and status. The exceptionality of great powers is countered by smaller states ’  assertion of sovereign equality. The centrality of status is reflected in non-permanent members ’ strategies to gain influence in the Council. This is easy enough to see in wrangles over its composition, but perhaps less obvious when it comes to  working methods reform. In fact, struggles over how the Council works have been framed in terms of the acquisition of new administrative roles, as non-permanent states have pressed for positions as chairs of subcommittees and penholders on agenda items. 6  Administrative responsibility is no substitute for politics. While accepting that deliberative politics is unlikely in the Council, this article urges non-permanent members to embrace more disruptive working methods as an alternative pathway to influence. Instead of asserting their individual importance, non-permanent members should focus on making more durable changes to the Council and its operations  –   ones that last beyond their two-year terms. My analysis draws on the work of Hannah Arendt to argue in favour of the renewing power of diversity. 7  On this view, non-permanence is not undesirable, it is the essence of incoming members’ transformative potential , and a label worth reclaiming. In affirming renewal, I do not suggest that the Council can or does achieve the deliberative mutuality of  Arendtian political action. Instead, my focus is on her distinction between labour and work. I argue that laborious administrative roles yield little durable product, and do not affirm plurality, because administrators are anonymous and interchangeable. 8  Administrative reform reinforces the idea that incoming members are well- behaved guests in the permanent members’ house . A 6  In November 2018, the 10 incumbent and the five incoming non-permanent members wrote to the Council pressing for a more equal distribution of responsibilities. Their representative function was one of the arguments they gave in their favour. UN Doc. S/2018/1024 (15 November 2018) 7    Arendt’s work has been used often and in diverse ways by international lawyers. See for example, Jan Klabbers, “Possible Islands of Predictability: The Legal Thought of Hannah Arendt” 20(1) LJIL (2007) 1–  23; Susan Marks, “Law and the Production of Superfluity” 2(1) Transnational Legal Theory (2011) 1 -24; Alison Kesby, The Right to Have Rights (OUP, 2012); Deborah Whitehall, “People in glass houses: lessons for international law from Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt” 2(2) LRIL (2014) 329–353; Ioannis Kalpouzos and Itamar Mann, “Banal Crimes against Humanity: The Case of Asylum Seekers in Greece” 16(1) Melbourne Journal of International Law (2015) 1- 36; Ayça Cubukçu, “On the Exception of Hannah Arendt” 15(3) Law, Culture and the Humanities   (2019) 684  –  704 8  Hannah Arendt, On Violence   (Harvest, 1969), 81  September 2019 A uthor’s Version  Isobel Roele 3 more hands-on and less business-as-usual approach could make non-permanent membership a force for renewal and transformation.  The first part of the article reconsiders the implications of non-permanence in Security Council membership  –   the good, and the bad. The second part draws on  Arendt’s insight s to analyse  working methods reform as a pathway to influence and renewal. The article ends by reflecting on the transformative potential of being in-the-way. 2.   Implications of Impermanence Impermanence is usually treated as a barrier to influence, which can be removed either by seeking constitutional parity with the permanent members (composition reform), or by achieving an operational redistribution of responsibilities (working methods reform). This contribution thinks through the second of these strategies for influence, using ideas Hannah Arendt elaborated in The Human Condition to do so. In this respect it follows Jan Klabbers in drawing on  Arendt as a “source of inspiration” rather than a “fount of wisdom” . 9  In particular, it does not find in Arendt’s work a blueprint for  political action or deliberative democracy in the Security Council.  Arendt shows us that while impermanence seems like a barrier to individual influence, it could be the key to transforming the Security Council. Although the Council will never be a space of appearance for a global polis, “the space where I appear to others as others appear to me” , 10  it is nevertheless ripe for change. Premised on inequality, and deliberately designed as an elite body of strong-man states poised to take decisive action against aggressors, it was not made for mutual recognition and deliberative politics. 11  But today its strongman credentials are at odds with the  world. The Council is a microcosm of a world that no longer exists  –   one in which Britain and France were Great Powers, Germany and Japan were enemies of peace, and colonial rule was still a badge of pride for European states. The sovereign inequality of the Council, with five  Allied Powers as its permanent members and ten rotating non-permanent seats, is increasingly difficult to defend on grounds of functional proficiency. Rather than a positive vision of deliberative politics, then, this article proffers a negative one - the end of great power politics. Back in 2005 heads of state and government pledged “early reform of the Security Council… in order to make it more broadly representative, efficient and transparent and thus to further enhance its effectiveness and the legitimacy and implementation of its decisions”, but its composition is yet to change. 12  Working methods reform emerged in 2006 as a more feasible 9    Jan Klabbers, “ Hannah Arendt and the Languages of Global Governance ” in Marco Goldoni and Chris McCorkindale,  Arendt and the Law   (Hart, 2012), 229 10  Arendt, The Human Condition  , 198-199 11  Isobel Roele, “The Vicious Circles of Habermas’ Cosmopolitics” 25(3) Law and Critique (2014) 119 -229. cf. Ian  Johnstone, “Security Council Deliberations: The Power of the Better Argument” 14(3) EJ IL (2003) 437; Ian  Johnstone, “Legislation and Adjudication in the UN Security Council: Bringing Down the Deliberative Deficit” 102  AJIL (2008) 275   12  UN World Summit Outcome Document, UN Doc. A/Res/60/1 (2005), para. 153  September 2019 A uthor’s Version  Isobel Roele 4 alternative to composition reform. At present, however, it is hamstrung by being rendered in terms of status. In November 2018, non-permanent members wrote to the Council president demanding greater parity of status through the redistribution of penholderships and chairpersonships. 13  This framing has lumbered non-permanent members with much more responsibility and little more control. Arendt helps rethink non-permanent membership in terms of activity, rather than status. Instead of seeing responsibilities as badges that can be won, we focus on how non-permanent members might change the Council. Such change, moreover, depends not on becoming more like the permanent members through training programmes that enable new members to “hit the ground running”, but by new members  insisting on each their particularity. a)   Impermanence and renewal  The UN Security Council is a “ political organ ”    par excellence  . 14  Its particular brand of politics is identified with out-and-out Realpolitk, distinguishing it from the comparatively deliberative General Assembly. On this view, power is political capital  –   military, diplomatic, or moral  –   that one either possesses or lacks. Arendt offers an alternative view that associates politics with freedom rather than control. Here power is a matter of potential rather than possession. It inheres in the human capacity to act, and more precisely to begin something new. Moreover, for  Arendt, politics is participatory and collective  –    it is about “being together”.  The Council is not political in this sense. It is a space dominated by the P5, whose institutional privilege and political capital alienate the ten rotating non-permanent members from the organ.  The UN Charter famously privileges the five permanent members of the Council - Britain, China, France, Russia, and the USA  –   with a veto power over decisions. 15  These states also enjoy considerable privileges that stem from the fact of their permanence. Michael Reisman vividly likened the Council to a matryoshka doll, which contains “ever - smaller ‘mini - Councils’, each meeting behind closed doors without keeping records, and each taking decisions secretly”. 16  The P5, P3 and P1 dominate the body, marginalising the ten non-permanent members, and the broader the UN membership as a whole. 17  This mode of politics is action-oriented, not discursive  –    geared to providing “prompt and effective action”. 18  Council politics are also seen as  very self-interested, 19   rendering politics a matter of “people [being] only for or against other people”. 20   13  UN Doc. S/2018/1024 (15 November 2018) 14    As Judge Schwebel said, “the Security Council is a political organ which acts for political reasons” rather than legal ones. Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. USA) Merits, ICJ Reports, 1986, dissenting opinion of Judge Schwebel, 290, para. 60 15  UN Charter, Article 27(3) 16    W. Michael Reisman, “The Constitutional Crisis in the United Nations” 87(1)  AJIL   (1993) 83-100, 85. Cf.   17   Mahubani, “The Permanent and Elected Council Members”, 256 -257 18  UN Charter, Article 24(1) 19  Adam Roberts and Dominik Zaum, Selective Security: War and the United Nations Security Council Since 1945 (Routledge, 2008) 20  Arendt, The Human Condition  , 2 nd  ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1998), 7  September 2019 A uthor’s Version  Isobel Roele 5 Domination and self-interest are not the Council’s only faults: it is also thoroughly bureaucratic. Bureaucracy is entirely in keeping with the UN’s modus operandi  , 21  and has crept in both as a means of curtailing the permanent members’ power (for instance in the requirement that the Council report on its work, 22  and consult more widely  23  ), and as a means for the body to exercise power (the proliferation of subsidiary organs, 24  and the use of monitoring and reporting mechanisms testify to this 25  ). Contrary to its popular image, the Council is not always in emergency mode. An increasing proportion of its business concerns mandate renewals, expert reports, horizon-scanning, and liaising with other global actors. 26  This work is not harmless.  Arendt explained that bureaucracy is violent, too. Famously describing it as “rule by nobody”,  she pointed out that it makes everyone equally powerless without the need for a tyrant. Bureaucracy is indifferent to human beings and denies us our “faculty of action”, which rests, she says, on the ability “to embark on something new”. 27  Arendt treats bureaucracy a s “anti - politics”, to use Klabbers’s apt term. 28   Arendt primarily talked about the stifling effect of bureaucracy on political action in terms of responsibility, because it alienates men from their actions. Bureaucracy is also stifling because it demands more of the same. It generates an ocean of certainty, to adapt Arendt’s famous image. Here, rule is “misused to cover the whole ground of the future and to map out a path secured in all directions”. 29  In this respect, bureaucracy is inimical to freedom conceived of as “ the spontaneous beginning of something new  ”. 30  This is precisely what has happened to the non-permanent members of the Security Council. The yearly intake of five new members brings with it a promise of renewal, which is systematically neutralized by channeling the activity of new members into bureaucratic avenues, and by socializing them into established administrative patterns. Every January, five new members enter the Security Council, and five old ones leave. Although  we talk about the Council in terms of its permanent and non-permanent members, in practice there are several groups: Permanent members, sophomore non-permanents, freshman non-  21  As Anne Orford shows in International Authority and the Responsibility to Protect   (CUP, 2011) 94-97. See also, my  Articulated Security: The United Nations and its Infra-Law   (CUP, forthcoming). 22  UN Charter, Article 24(3) 23    The “Green Book”, of Working Methods Handbook contains multiple entries relating to consultations and dialogues. Available at:  24  UN Charter, Article 29 25  See e.g. Isobel Roele, “Disciplinary Power in the UN Counter -  Terrorism Committee” 19(1)  Journal of Conflict and Security Law   (2014) 49-84 26  A sense of the vast body of rolling business can be gained by reading the monthly digest of the Security Council Reporting and Mandate Cycles, prepared by the Security Council Secretariat Branch of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. The 2019 edition, published in December 2018, runs to 113 pages. Available at:   27  Hannah Arendt, On Violence   (Harvest, 1969), 81-82 28    Jan Klabbers, “Possible Islands of Predictability: The Legal Thought of Hannah Arendt” 20(1) LJIL (2007) 1–  23, 11 29  Arendt, The Human Condition, 244 30  Arendt, The Human Condition, 234
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